The Strafford Town House is commanding. It is easily mistaken for a church because of the white spire that reaches for the sky. Set up on a steep hill; the giant structure forces you to look up to it, from the more fittingly modest village common. Now boasting a population of 1,045, what were the inhabitants of Strafford thinking in 1799 when they built this proud structure?
They thought large. They dreamed big.
One recent night some 150 people walked up the hill to enter the Town House. One woman, clinging to crutches under each arm pit and wearing a cloth handbag attached by a string around her neck, was huffing and puffing as she walked in, a bit late, looking for a seat.
I offered my help, wanting to acknowledge her achievement. I knew she would refuse, which she did, gesturing towards a seat on the aisle, in the back row, which she could reach by herself, thank you.
What brought her there was a candidate's forum. Norman Rockwell would have been delighted to paint the scene. These attentive, eager citizens who filled every row came to see for themselves what the candidates stood for, perhaps how they looked, and of course, what they were going to say. The massive architecture with its high windows and carefully carved wooden details created the aura of a cathedral — a cathedral dedicated to democracy.
The event was not unusual for the political season: some local candidates spoke, but the main attraction was the first debate for the Democratic candidates for Vermont's Attorney General, the 15-year incumbent Bill Sorrell and the challenger, state's attorney TJ Donovan. They headed straight for the issues. No pre-arranged soft balls. The questions were specific and detailed answers were clearly expected.
The scene was as far away from today's politics of vitriol and attack ads as if it were taking place in another century. No spin, no analysts to tell the audience what had been said. They figured it out for themselves.
Some families brought their children, no doubt to give them a simple lesson on how government should work.
Walking down the hill I felt refreshed, as if all the slime and dirt of today's national campaigns had been washed away by a good rain.
Madeleine M. Kunin is the author of The New Feminist Agenda, and